Interview with Natalie Wong



Natalie Wong is a UK mixed media artist based in Hong Kong. Originally from London, she moved to Asia in 2012. Her work has been featured in several international publications including GQ, Esquire, HYPEBEAST, IT Fashion, Lifestyle Asia and Popbee. She recently made a stunning series of 12 neon portraits that feature iconic rappers. For each piece, Wong creates a continuous line drawing of each rapper. Afterwards, the drawings are traced with electroluminescent wire that is affixed to a transparent display. Collectively, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Nas, JAY-Z, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Pharrell, Kanye West, Drake, and Nicki Minaj are the artists Wong reimagined as “Neon Rap Portraits” for the project


Music On Walls had the chance to discuss with Natalie Wong about her “Neon Rap Portraits” and the importance of music in her creation process. 

Hi Natalie, could you tell Music On Walls how did the idea of “Neon Rap Portraits” series come to you?


After I finished a NIKE commission last August, I wanted to focus on some personal artwork. A good friend took me to an old Hong Kong restaurant for inspiration, it hadn't changed for over 50 years! We discussed how it would be interesting to create artwork that referenced something from Hong Kong. I spent a few weeks just walking around my city looking at things that were very 'Hong Kong' and it quickly became apparent that one of the city's strongest visual icons were Neon Signs.

Street culture is something that truly fascinates me and both rap and hip hop are core elements of street culture. I wanted to explore ways to present these music genres that connected the subject matter and the art itself.

Self-expression has always been important to me. I also write music in addition to making art and during one trip to NYC, a friend suggested I read "The Rap Year Book" by Shea Serrano. Serrano provided an insightful perspective about the development of rap and analyses some of the world's best known rap songs. I'm a history geek and it was interesting to learn how early freestyle rap evolved from block parties in the South Bronx in the 70s; the notorious battles between rap giants like Tupac vs Biggie or Nas vs Jay Z and a look into major themes that permeate rap - e.g. inflammatory rapping, boastful rapping, lifestyle rapping etc.. 


My "Neon Rap Portraits" work can be defined in two separate parts. The first part is the continuous line. I used a traditional technique, known as continuous line drawing, whereby an entire image is drawn using one single unbroken line. The pen is never lifted from the paper. Artists known for this technique include Picasso and Egon Schiele. I thought it would be a very powerful way to present each rapper with a continuous line because the creative technique mirrored freestyle rapping, which is how most rappers learn how to rap. When I make a continuous drawing, my lines are made up instantaneously on the spot. When a rapper freestyles, his lines are also made up on the spot.







The second part is the neon, or rather electroluminescent wire that mimics neon light effects. When a rapper freestyles, to prove he or she is actually freestyling and not simply saying pre-memorized lyrics, they will usually reference something in their immediate environment. E.g. their opponent's clothing. For me, my immediate environment is Hong Kong and my artwork references elements in my immediate environment - neon signs.




What is your favorite song of each rapper represented in your "Neon Rap Portraits"


This is tough!


Eminem - "Stan"

Lauryn Hill - "Ex Factor"

Jay Z - "99 Problems"

Kanye West - "All Falls Down"

Drake - 'Best I Ever Had"

Tupac - "Changes"

Biggie - "Hypnotize"

Missy Elliot - "Get Ur Freak On"

Nicki Minaj - her verse in "Monster"

Nas - "If I Ruled the World"

Pharrell - "Get Lucky"

Snoop - "Drop It Like It's Hot"



What are your favorite portraits from this series? 

Nas for the way the lines balance. Eminem for complexity and Lauryn Hill (because she is my favourite rapper). 

 Do you have plans on creating new artworks inspired by music? 

I have an upcoming solo exhibition on 22 February for one month in Hong Kong. I will be revealing two new 'Neon Rap Portraits" for the exhibition. (details below)



What is the importance of music in your art and in your life? 

Music plays a central theme in my latest artwork. In terms of my life in general, music has also been very important. I enjoy writing music (I am more of a lyricist) and even wrote a rap song to track a few years ago. I was going through a tough time and writing that song really helped. A TV company wanted to license the song but I felt uncomfortable releasing it commercially because it was too personal. 


Are you a musician?

Only an amateur musician! I enjoy challenging myself lyrically and I went through a phase of writing music about issues that I felt strongly about. E.g. youth crime or sex trafficking. I get a lot of requests by independent film studios to use my anti-sex trafficking song for documentaries and short films about this issue. 




What is on your playlist right now?


                                                          Higher Brothers                                                                                                                                Little Dragon


                           Dizzee Rascal                                                                                                                                                                                  Kanye West






Solo Exhibition

Address: 3/F Remex Centre, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Opening Thursday 22 February 2018 (artist in attendance)
7PM - 10PM

February 23 to March 31 2018
11AM - 7PM